The boy who loved too much: A true story of pathological friendliness
by Jennifer Latson
RJ506.W44 L37 2017
New Arrivals Island, 2nd floor
Read this for the endearing case of Eli, a boy with Williams syndrome. Caused by a tiny deletion of 26 specific genes, Williams results in an unusual combination of symptoms: “elfin” facial quirks, cardiac and cognitive abnormalities, usually strong verbal skills, abysmal math and spatial skills, and the aggressively gregarious personality alluded to in the title. In fact, people with Williams are so socially uninhibited that they were even found, in a 2010 scientific study, to be the only known group of people to show absolutely no bias or prejudice toward one’s own race (a preference that all normally-developing 3-year-olds have internalized). It’s both sweet and heartbreaking to read how Eli tries so desperately to connect with every random stranger or classmate he meets, yet he (at ages 12-14 or so, with his different abilities compounded by the typical hormones and volatility of adolescence) lacks the maturity and social awareness to be able to forge meaningful relationships with nearly anyone outside his immediate family.
Latson’s telling of his story – based on three years of intense observation and interviews with the family – is compassionate and fascinating. She balances between a focus on the day-to-day challenges of Eli and his devoted mother, Gayle, and a broader perspective on the disorder. She mentions both the historical context (literary characters, or Williams patients who may have found a place as court jesters/fools, or who may have been the basis for legends of elves and fairies in centuries past) and the challenges and support networks between other families affected by Williams. At the same time, Eli’s behavior brings into sharp focus Gayle’s struggles between independence and protection for him, between social connection and boundaries – a struggle that should strike a chord with parents of all teens and ‘tweens, as well as their teachers.